The Word Among Us

July/August 2019 Issue

A Letter from Christ

You are a testimony to God’s faithful, covenant love.

A Letter from Christ: You are a testimony to God’s faithful, covenant love.

When was the last time you watched a play—whether in a professional theater or at your local high school? There is nothing quite like watching a live production, especially when compared to just reading the script. The playwright’s words jump off the page when seasoned actors are speaking on a stage right in front of us.

St. Paul made a similar point when he called the believers in Corinth “a letter of Christ . . . written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh” (2 Corinthians 3:3). In the same way that a written work springs to life when it is performed onstage, the Corinthians had made all of Paul’s teachings spring to life. Points of theology and doctrine took on flesh and blood as the people gathered to worship the Lord and as they became more humble, more loving, and more generous to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

By describing them as a “letter of Christ,” Paul was saying that the new covenant in Christ had turned the Corinthians into a living testimony to the world around them.

Two thousand years later, the Spirit is still writing the new covenant on the hearts of his people and turning us into living testimonies. So in this article, we want to explore what that means for our lives today. Let’s see how God changes us through the grace of this new covenant so that we become living witnesses—living letters written by God’s own hand—to the people we encounter each day.

Grace on Display. St. Paul himself is probably one of the best examples of a living letter from God. When he lived under the old covenant, Paul strived to follow every letter of the Law. That’s because following the Law of Moses was the way every faithful Jew was expected to live out the covenant God had made with Israel. Paul was so committed to the Law that he went so far as to persecute and arrest Jews who understood the covenant differently­­—and that meant especially the followers of Jesus. Because they seemed to disregard the Law of Moses and proclaim that a man was equal to God, Paul saw these early disciples as a threat to the Judaism he loved so deeply.

But once Paul encountered Jesus, he became convinced that the Law he had treasured so deeply was meant as a preparation for the new covenant God had ushered in through Christ. And that new covenant was a covenant of grace, one that reached into his heart and made him a new creation.

Reflecting back on his conversion, Paul wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” It was grace that made him into a new creation in Christ. “And,” Paul proclaimed, “his grace to me has not been ineffective” (1 Corinthians 15:10). God’s grace certainly was effective! Paul became a dramatic letter from God to everyone he met. He spent the rest of his life traveling throughout Asia Minor and Europe sharing the good news of this new covenant. He endured beatings, hunger and thirst, long and dangerous journeys, and years of imprisonment—just so he could tell people that God’s grace was now available to everyone through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

A New Heart of Love. St. Paul shows us that the grace of our new covenant in Christ is not just an abstract theory; it is something we can experience in our lives. That’s because the new covenant is not just a formal agreement between two parties. It’s a unique and powerful outpouring of divine grace. It’s the grace of God writing his ways on our hearts and shaping us, little by little, to become more like him. Here is one story that illustrates this point.

Martha and her husband, Jack, had been married for only fifteen years, but the tension between them had become so great that both were ready to give up. When Martha confided to her friend Ginny that her marriage was in trouble, Ginny listened carefully and then told Martha how prayer had helped her with her marriage to Jim. “The more I place my faith and trust in God’s love,” she told Martha, “the easier it is for me to love Jim.”

Martha took Ginny’s words to heart and began carving out time each morning to pray and read Scripture. She also went to daily Mass when she could. She began to treasure this time of quiet and reflection and made sure nothing would interrupt it.

One day as she was reading Scripture, Martha came across a passage from the Letter of James that talks about how much damage such a small thing as the tongue can do (3:1-12). The words spoke to her. She saw how her critical, negative comments to her husband had been damaging their marriage. She asked the Holy Spirit to help her stop making jabs at her husband and not to retaliate when he spoke sharply to her. She also decided to repent of this habit in Confession and ask for God’s mercy to help her overcome it.

Slowly but surely, Martha changed. It wasn’t always easy, and she had her fair share of setbacks, but she kept trying to guard her words. She was grateful for Ginny’s words of encouragement as well. She took great comfort in knowing she had a friend who could help her and pray for her.

Jack began to notice how much Martha had changed, and he asked, “What’s going on with you?” Martha told him how her relationship with God was working in her heart, and he was deeply moved. “God did all this for you?” he asked. “I want that too!” It was one of the best conversations they had had in years, and it began to change their relationship.

Soon both Martha and Jack were praying and attending Mass together, and the tension in their marriage began to dissolve. They gradually let go of long-held resentments, and they worked on forgiving each other. Martha had been a “letter” to Jack, and now they were becoming letters of grace to one another.

A Constant Reminder. As we navigate the ups and downs of life, we can often forget that we are heirs of a new covenant with God. Especially when we are struggling, we can lose sight of the fact that Jesus has irrevocably bound himself to us and given us his Spirit to help us live a new life.

That’s why God has given us a constant reminder of his covenant in the Mass. Think of how the priest says the same words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper: “This is my Body. . . . This is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant.” Every Mass is a personal letter from God to you—a reminder as well as an opportunity for us to experience the grace and blessings of our new covenant.

Mass is also a time when we can be living letters from God to one another. Think, for example, of a husband and wife who faithfully attend Mass every Sunday with their severely disabled son. They gently lead him up to Communion, then guide him back to his seat. From the care and concern evident on their faces, it’s obvious that this couple has embraced the vocation of loving and caring for their son despite all the sacrifices involved. It’s also obvious how much they treasure their faith in Jesus by coming to receive him at Mass every single week. If you were to see that family Sunday after Sunday, wouldn’t you be grateful to the Lord for their witness? That family is a living letter from God to every person who sees them on Sundays.

The next time you go to Mass, look around you. Who is a living witness to you? Who is that letter from God? They’re all around; you just need to look with eyes of faith.

You Are a Letter to the World. God has made a covenant with us. He has committed himself to removing our sins and to filling us with his grace. As we accept that grace and allow it to change the ways we think and act, we become his letter of love to the people around us.

So believe that God is working in you. It’s part of his covenant promise to you. Every day, whether or not you feel any different, thank him for this precious gift. Thank him for covenanting himself to you and making you into a letter that reveals his love and mercy to everyone you meet.